Democrats’ Bench Needs Additional Time

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

It’s hard to beat somebody with nobody.  The list of Republican somebodies on the 2014 ballot will be extensive.  Presumably, Governor Nathan Deal, Senator Saxby Chambliss, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, and the cast of other Republican statewide elected officials will be on the ballot.  They will have plentiful war chests of campaign cash, a statewide network of organized county party organizations, and the full complement of the trappings of incumbency.

Democrats, meanwhile, begin the campaign with no statewide elected officials, barring an upset in the one Public Service Commission race for which they managed to field a candidate.  Instead of high dollar fundraisers to attract the cash from those who wish to remain on the good list of the well connected they are having Hip Hop/R&B dance nights with a $20 cover to raise money.  Their senior party officials have had a public feud over direction, finances and management issues. Evidence of the party’s organization outside I-285 is scarce.  And the bench of candidates in waiting to take on the long list of Republican incumbents is….well, minimal is about as charitable of a word one can construct.

The bench was effectively cleared when the top talent available in 2010 declared political suicide missions in attempts at higher offices.  Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond left a relatively safe spot at Labor Commissioner in a quixotic attempt to oust a much more popular Senator Johnny Isakson.  Attorney General Thurbert Baker was unable to even make it to the nomination for Governor, with Democrats yielding to the attempted comeback of former Governor Roy Barnes.

The clearing of the Democratic bench has left little machine in place to raise funds, and few with extensive name identification. Nonetheless, Democrats looking ahead to 2014 will no doubt take inspiration from President Bill Clinton, who addressed their Convention in Charlotte this week as the party’s favorite son.

When he announced for President, his opponent had some of the highest job approval ratings ever recorded and had just won a war after building a huge international coalition.  Two years later, he was President because almost no one else wanted the job when he lined up to take it.

Georgia’s emerging Democratic leaders would be wise to avoid listening to those who whisper the Bill Clinton parallel into their ears.  Clinton had a national party ready to deliver money and votes to an eventual candidate, whereas the current Democratic Party of Georgia has yet to prove it can extend its reach beyond the 404 area code.

All three names most often mentioned as the future of the party reside inside Atlanta’s perimeter highway, the major island of Georgia’s Democrats surrounded by a red sea of Republicans.  Mayor Kasim Reed, Senator Jason Carter, and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams all have statewide potential, but frankly, are needed in their current positions past 2014 to establish a viable alternative for Democratic Governance if the party is to again emerge as a credible contender in Georgia’s policy debate.

Reed has shown an understanding of statewide issues and a willingness to work across party lines and substantial geographic distances to solve Georgia’s problems.  His assistance to expand the Port of Savannah is well documented.  His attempt to help the Atlanta region solve its traffic problems may not have ended the way he wanted, but if Republicans are still searching for a solution in 2018 when the Governor’s seat is again open, he can at least point to a pro-active solution that wasn’t.

Senator Carter, meanwhile, is among the legislative leaders willing to buck Republicans with specific pro-active policy alternatives.  He is largely credited with slowing the Governor’s reforms to the HOPE scholarship in 2011, and based on a banner flying over Sanford Stadium during UGA’s home opener, it appears Democrats will continue to rally around this message.

Abrams has thus far been more willing to work with Republicans, carving out planks within Republican legislation to make it more favorable to her Democratic constituency.  She remains well respected within the legislature on both sides of the aisle, but has yet to achieve the statewide name ID that Reed carries as the Mayor of Georgia’s largest city or Carter who has deep roots in rural Georgia that come with a Presidential pedigree.

While each shows great potential for future leadership, each is also relatively young.  There is plenty of time for them to grow in their current roles, perfect an actual agenda, and reconnect with the parts of the state that can no longer identify with the national Democratic Party.

In the mean time, Democrats need to patch relations with South Georgia social conservatives who feel alienated by current party leadership.  2014 should be a year to field candidates that represent more than the neighborhoods surrounding Emory University or South Atlanta.  While preparing to move the party forward, Democrats should probably take one cycle to look backward.

Anyone know what Sam Nunn is doing these days?

62 comments

    • Trey A. says:

      Grift, I don’t get it…

      I think Jim Marshall would be far and away the Dems’ best shot at governor in 2014… I’d vote for him in a heartbeat (for Governor–not to return him to Congress). But, it might be hard to get him to run.

      • griftdrift says:

        Would be hard to get Marshall to run. Would be hard to get Sam to do anything. He’s too busy actually trying to save the world ( and there’s a touch of irony here after Charlie’s lashing of Dick Lugar, Nunn’s partner in crime in the world saving part )

        But to elaborate on Charlie’s point, Nunn certainly not going to run for anything soon, but he has been noticeably absent or at least does not have the mantle of party lion that he should have. It wouldn’t hurt to ask him advice every now and then.

        The “oh lord” reaction was a bit of an inside joke. As usual, Charlie and I are almost in perfect agreement.

      • Charlie says:

        Not saying Baker and Thurmond can’t or shouldn’t try in 2014. For the Dems, having them lose again is much better than clearing their bench, again, and having to reload, again.

        For Reed, Carter, and Abrams, however, they stand a much better chance of being elected the first time if they hold off upward ambitions until 2018. They then will have a much longer public track record, and wouldn’t find themselves scrambling to find filler positions to keep their name in the press (ala Barnes going to the House after losing the first time) to have a record ready for a 2nd go if necessary.

          • Charlie says:

            Why, we’ll have a great reunion of the same Republicans I used to campaign on good government with back in the 90’s. You know, before they got the car keys and the whiskey.

  1. Spacey G says:

    Baker and Thurmond’s campaigns had all the (media) charm ‘n sparkle of re-grouting the tub. Talk about listening to just plain weird advice. And the Porters, well, that beatific photo op has sailed, shall we say/mix metaphors. Alas.

    Dems running for anything right now in Georgia remind me of that one time my high school softball team bench was so depleted they had to get me to pitch a game.

    Got nothin’ much. Sad indeed.

  2. gcp says:

    Reed, Abrams and Carter are the future? Reed and his federally funded trolley folly and his numerous ethics problems; Abrams famously said she opposed replacing the state income tax with a sales tax because she did not want to “tax living” but subsequently supported T-Splost and Carter whose roots extend only to Decatur are not much of a future for the Dems. I urge them to look a little harder.

    • wicker says:

      Reed has ethics problems? Name them. I’d put Reed’s alleged ethics problems up against those of Deal and Perdue any day of the week. And what is it with this intense seething raging hatred for a trolley that will cost $12 million? Were you this angry at the hundreds of billions wasted in Iraq? No, I am not talking about the war/reconstruction effort itself, mind you, but the taxpayer money that was handed out to Bush cronies in no-bid contracts for work that was never done?

      • gcp says:

        Yikes….Atlanta paid about three to four times what the state paid for gravel during the 2011 snow. The contractor just happened to be a large contributor to Reed’s campaign. (Check with Richard Belcher on that one) How about the airport limo service that was kicked out and given to a former business partner of Reed. (Well-chronicled by Dale Russell and the I-Team) How about the airport vendor contracts many of which were given to Reed contributors. (Check with the AJC) And the trolley-folly will costs the federal tax payers about 47 million per John Lewis. Sorry but no I am not a Republican.

        • wicker says:

          gcp:

          A) “Atlanta paid about three to four times what the state paid for gravel during the 2011 snow. The contractor just happened to be a large contributor to Reed’s campaign.” Not illegal. Politics as usual.
          B) “How about the airport limo service that was kicked out and given to a former business partner of Reed.” Not illegal. Politics as usual.
          C) “How about the airport vendor contracts many of which were given to Reed contributors.” Not illegal. Politics as usual.

          If your cause was public financing of campaigns, you’d have a great point. But trying to pass off routine politicking as “severe ethics problems” is a joke.

          “And the trolley-folly will costs the federal tax payers about 47 million per John Lewis.”
          Wow. $47 whole million dollars. Let me tell you something: too bad folks don’t care anywhere near as much about what Georgia Power gets away with as they do projects going to Atlanta. When you consider the size of a city or county budget, let alone a state or federal one, the frothing anger at $47 million is based more on the principle of the thing, not the actual outlay. Put it this way: 10 F-22 fighter jets would pay for the entire cost of the Beltline, let alone that trolley.

          • gcp says:

            Yes, “ethics” are moral principles, not necessarily violations of the law. Yes, I guess it’s too much to ask that a politician have ethics.

          • gcp says:

            If Reed can get 47 million as a mayor just think how much he could spend as a senator. How about 470 million or 4.7 billion or 47 billion. Now were talking real money.

  3. wicker says:

    You can’t beat somebody with nobody? What about Sonny Perdue? And the guy that he beat, Roy Barnes, was not a statewide name prior to becoming governor either. Both Perdue and Barnes beat better known candidates in primaries and generals. All it takes is
    A) a good candidate (meaning having a background of qualifications and accomplishments)
    B) a good campaign (organization and message
    C) a platform that doesn’t alienate a specific portion of the state from the outset

    There are plenty of Georgia Democrats capable of A) and B). The problem is C), and whether the DPOG is willing to allow such a person who meets it past their primary. All available evidence is that the post Zell Miller/Tom Murphy DPOG won’t.

    • wicker says:

      Should have been a doesn’t alienate a significant portion of the state from the outset. Alas, lack of edit feature …

          • SallyForth says:

            Thanks, wicker. My P/P log-in changes my bolds to regular type face – I’ll see if I can figure how to make it html.

            • analogkid says:

              Thanks, wicker. My P/P log-in changes my bolds to regular type face – I’ll see if I can figure how to make it html.

              Just put the text you want bolded in between and . Delete the space I added after each of the two left arrows or it won’t work (i.e., If I had left those spaces out, the word “and” would have been in bold).

              Also, if you replace the “b” for an “i” you’ll get italics.

              Once you’ve mastered that, we’ll move on to block-quoting. 🙂

    • griftdrift says:

      Barnes/Perdue was a perfect storm ( and as Charlie alluded to, the greatest example hubris in modern Georgia times ), but check this out, wicker, I’ll agree with you.

      But it’s really bigger than the platform. It’s leadership. They are completely rudderless right now. Even if the advice Charlie gives tomorrow is good ( and I’m sure it will be but probably with a couple of things that will never happen ), it would never be implemented because they simply do not have a strong hand to make that kind of change effective.

      Until that changes they will be in the wilderness. And Charlie is right. Those with a future, like Carter and Abrams should continue to bide their time.

      • wicker says:

        Who knows. Maybe the DPOG can recruit and import such a strong hand from another state. Or from the private sector.

      • Daddy Got A Gun says:

        Bide their time or make a mark?

        My opinion: hanging out and enjoying the fruits of their positions won’t advance them politically. I think they need to start breaking the paradigms/baggage associated with being a Democrat and put the Republicans on the defensive. They need to out-Conservative the Republicans.

        For example, one of them should push a kick a$$ gun bill and watch how the Republicans work to kill it (just like they did this last session to HB981). A kick a$$ gun bill would allow carry of guns in schools and churches and reduces the age for a license to 18 years old. Watch how fast the Republicans start talking like representatives of the Brady Campaign.

        Another idea is to take on the bloated Board of Regents and force them to downsize their bureaucracy, cut tuition and fees, and make them offer degrees online. This effort is happening in Texas and Wisconsin by Govs. Perry and Walker.

        Or, they could work with the Tea Party on one of the TP’s priorities, like ethics reform and/or financial accountability of Legislator expense accounts and per-diem.

        To win, Carter and Minority Leader Abrams need to crush the liberal Dem stereotypes in highly visible manners and in a way that they can out-flank the Republicans. Otherwise, they’ll be categorized and stereotyped as Obama clones/drones.

  4. Tiberius says:

    Can any of these pro-south Georgia guys win a Democratic primary in the summer of 2016? See Terry Coleman losing to Darryl Hicks in 2010 Labor race.

      • SallyForth says:

        wicker, I don’t know what’s in the water today, but you and channeling my thoughts and opinions on several things. I will never be able to figure out how Cathy could have thought that putting every precinct in GA on black box voting, no accountability or recount ability, was a good idea. Especially putting all of our elections in the control of a company owned by an Ohio Republican who famously promised to “deliver 2004 to Bush”. Non-incumbent Democrats have not won a single statewide election since 1998 – coincidence? I think not.

        • SallyForth says:

          wicker, I don’t know what’s in the water today, but you and channeling my thoughts and opinions on several things.

          That should have been “you are channeling my thoughts” – damned hostage situation! Free Modify/Delete!

  5. Doug Deal says:

    The Democrats would have much better luck just joining the Republican party and treating the state like it just has open primaries. When one party is in whipering range of 2/3 majorities and every executive office, something is wrong with the other party that is going to require more than a charismatic leader to fix.

  6. Jane says:

    To win a statewide Democrat primary, you have to be black. To win statewide, you have to be a very moderate almost conservative Democrat with Rual appeal. My vote would be for Sandford Bishop, he is the most conservative Democrat with any influence in Georgia and he is a minority.

    However, the GOP will not lose until it messes things up so much that the people demand a change. Some suburban counties are messing up their governance and it could result in a Democrat gains. Statewide, the GOP has not messes things up too much yet. Just give it time.

    • wicker says:

      “To win a statewide Democrat primary, you have to be black.”

      Not true. As a matter of fact, the Democratic tickets might have done better had they not nominated Jim Martin and Roy Barnes (the sequel) recently. But the party simply allowed Mike Thurmond to play the role of sacrificial lamb in the 2010 Senate race that they knew that they couldn’t win anyway. (Just like how in other states, the GOP has the habit of nominating black Republicans to run against popular entrenched Democratic senators and governors.)

      “My vote would be for Sandford Bishop, he is the most conservative Democrat with any influence in Georgia and he is a minority.”

      Bishop has no influence in Georgia or in D.C., which is amazing considering that he has been in Congress for 20 years AND represents/has represented 2 of Georgia’s largest non-Atlanta cities (Columbus and Albany). David Scott is more influential, and also is about as moderate. Unfortunately, though, voting for Obamacare pretty much makes either guy toxic for a statewide run. If they wanted higher office, they should have voted against Obamacare like Artur Davis did.

      “However, the GOP will not lose until it messes things up so much that the people demand a change.”

      That won’t be the case much longer. Right now, Georgia voters are content to focus (blame everything) on Obama. But after November, either a GOPer will be in the White House or they will just have to accept being stuck with Obama for 4 more years. Either way, it will be time to stop using Obama being in the White House as the reflex excuse for ignoring our own high unemployment rate, not to mention problems in education, transportation, water, air quality etc.

  7. ricstewart says:

    How about Doug Stoner or Steve Thompson? I don’t think they’re the future of Democrats in Georgia, but I think they’d be politically viable options in 2014.
    I don’t know enough about Columbus politics to have an opinion on Teresa Tomlinson… what say ye, Columbus area Peach Punditeers?

  8. Mrs. Adam Kornstein says:

    Former Senator Nunn is continuing his fine efforts on behalf of curtailing the “loose nukes” worldwide. I’m sure he’d want little to do with running again.

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